Wednesday, January 27, 2010



Information Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo. Photo/FILE

Information Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo. Photo/FILE

By KAHENYA KAMUNYU (email the author)
Posted Tuesday, January 26 2010 at 17:26

Kenya is in dire need of investment in technology. That is why I am angry that the factors hindering growth are actually "policy" related to this sector, and not due to lack of innovators or investors. There are many innovators and investors willing to take the challenge of helping Kenya come out of the dark ages of narrowband and into the grace of broadband.

The problem rises from the differences between the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) and other 3G service providers. There seems to be a great cloud of varying information which hardly gets to the man on the street. The unclear issues include the following:

The Zain situation with the CCK

Though very confusing, The East African recently reported that they have only applied for a 3G licence but have not paid for it. However, some Zain insiders earlier claimed that they had paid and were in the process of testing.

Meanwhile, a couple of senior chairmen and CEOs I had the privilege of meeting with in a closed session also mentioned that they been informed that Zain had paid the fee. Every once in a while it is reported that the Zain connection knocks into 3G, and a couple of local techies have told me that they have hit 3G before both on their modems and handsets.

The Orange situation with the CCK

This is another saga that was recently clarified when Orange finally stated their position. They too find the US$25m (Sh1.9billion) 3G licence fee excessive.

The reason we have no alternative provider is because the fee is set too high. But why? Since there is no other obvious reason, short of greed, it seems to go back to two individuals and a long-term strategy by the Government.

Safaricom still dominates the market but not because of innovation. President Kibaki recently directed that number portability be executed by end of January 2010, although it now appears this will not happen until mid-2010. Worse, someone had earlier mentioned to me that even two years down the road we will still be in anticipation. I will not be surprised if this was some ambitious politician's manifesto come 2012. And even Prime Minister Raila Odinga, instead of getting down to supervisory work, which is his real job, is busy flapping his gums about the Mau Forest and ODM policies, but not about what the Government is doing wrong.

The lack of ability to criticise Safaricom in media means we cannot complain about the poor service. Yet Michael Joseph, the Safaricom CEO, has been named CEO of the Year in Kenya.

Corporate cancer

The African leadership cancer goes beyond government and into corporates. But then again, in Safaricom's case, the corporate is in bed with the Government.

As it appears, we won’t have a new 3G service provider because Bitange Ndemo, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Charles Njoroge, the Director General at the CCK would prefer this not to happen, and if it must, that the competitors suffer in getting it. They also are not willing to look at alternative solutions to allowing other networks because Safaricom needs protection, to keep the money flowing in. Government protection. In the next two years, voice will probably be a dead business. Data will be the goose that lays the golden eggs – so that prohibitive $25m 3G fee is, one suspects, trying to protect the data for one company.

Zain, Yu and Orange’s alternatives

• Zain, Yu and Orange need to negotiate a better rate for the 3G licence and then finance a debt repayment on behalf of the CCK to cover the excess fee Safaricom paid.

• CCK keeps the same fee and work on a debt recovery management plan where they get percentages of incomes till the fee is covered, plus interest of course. The licence can be issued for free or at a deposit, and I believe CCK would have recovered the sums within five years.

• CCK refunds Safaricom the US$ 25m and we forget 3G. That way, no-one has it and it’s an even playing field.

Orange, is the beast that Safaricom is worried about. Funny, Orange is just about to get it right, and the only reason 99 percent of the country is not with Orange, is because it is yet to discover flat billing on data. This per MB rates they keep trying to sell on a sliding scale are so confusing and people would rather not buy. Orange is the only company that does not need to be greedy and they will get all the customers. But the greed is showing. The French owners are still French, and they bite. And they are greedy. They need to ease up.

Turning our backs on Ndemo

My point is, we need to isolate and openly ignore Bitange Ndemo who we openly allow into the tech fold (as his actions on media freedoms have shown, he is not a great believer in freedom of expression). Inviting him into Skunkworks meetings and conferences and other meet ups needs to stop. He needs to get the hint. I find it sad that we allow the same person who is ruining tech in Kenya to come in.

I find it sad that we, the tech community, have not stood up as one and said Enough! But we are Kenyans, the only things we know to unite around usually revolve around entertainment and even then, not for long. We have no common goals or agendas to developing tech in Kenya, we have united common wishes and ideologies, but we are not really out there turning wishes into goals. As for Charles Njoroge, well, I guess I’m glad I don’t run into him. I might say some unhappy words.

I hate the fact that my job now involves spending more time dealing with politics and struggling to get connections to work rather than working on projects. A good 80 per cent of my productive time is wasted because of these two individuals and I am getting fed up with losing ideas and time because of all this rubbish. So let’s begin showing our outrage by boycotting these two.


Submitted by logtopkey
  1. Posted January 27, 2010 05:10 PM

    The anti trust law (competition law in the US prohibits businesses from engaging in practices that dilutes a free market economy..Bill Gates went to court for this (Microsoft vs United States)..This is what shd happen in this case..otws, I'll continue suffering with low speeds from affordable companies.

  2. Submitted by mkei
    Posted January 27, 2010 02:54 PM

    Dude,your article is laced with misplaced bile.Bitange is my man,i'm not gonna ignore nor isolate him.The problem is the 3 co.s, always whining for freebies.Fork it like Safcom. Also get your facts and statement straight,most of them contradict, not unless you are not sure of what you are saying, or just wanna grind your axes.

  3. Submitted by perspective
    Posted January 27, 2010 01:47 PM

    CCK and Safaricom are the hindrances to Vision 2030. Atleast i have found company in my suffering with organisations. we should shout louder.

  4. Submitted by fwaithash
    Posted January 27, 2010 11:09 AM

    I love this debate. So sad that Since we got the 2 Cables SEACOM and TEAMS, Kenyans have not benefited from improved broadband speeds and Safcom the only GSM co with 3G is laughing all the way to the BANK. Will the speeds improve when EASY activates its cable in June this year?

  5. Submitted by nikokib
    Posted January 27, 2010 10:23 AM

    KenyanCanadian whatever your name means....please dont reduce this very important article to issues of Raila/Kibaki. The author clearly outlined the role Raila ought to have rightly played in this issue. Broadband is so important to a certain generation which i doubt you belong. """"'Safaricom you better style time i was informed by customer care that i could use broadband services at peak hours (Voice) because at that time voice was the cash cow and broadband was relagated!! I wished for alternatives immediately!!

  6. Submitted by bashe1
    Posted January 27, 2010 03:52 AM

    This is very alarming what is happening between big business and the leaders who were sent to work for wanainchi. Kenya will only develop if wanainchi drum up the need for reforms in all sectores of their country to root out corrupt practices which are hindrance to development.

  7. Submitted by sassa
    Posted January 27, 2010 02:05 AM

    when the govt sells you a licence in any field, they are basically selling a natural resource to an individual/company. SCOM found the money for the licence, its only fair that the rest do the same. When Orange says "the fee is too high", how exactly do they come to that conclusion, given that SCOM already paid it? Who gets to debate fees? Orange consumers have no say on the company's tariffs either, and it wont change soon.

  8. Submitted by werssylwer
    Posted January 27, 2010 01:57 AM

    @kenyan canadian....are you serious? ....Jeez !!! Some people amaze me at the way they look at things. Are you serious?....Anyway back to the article. The writer's anger is not misplaced and i imagine it must be very frustrating when dealing with govt beauracrats that still live in the 1900s. They are still scheming on how to milk this one considering it is potentially one of the most lucrative ventures. But anyway, i still cannot get over kenyancanadian....he stopped reading the article because something was said about Raila !! Can you believe this?......

  9. Submitted by kajanakafupi
    Posted January 27, 2010 01:21 AM

    Everyone is angry about the pace of everything in Kenya... Correction on your figures. 25 Million US dollars can never be 25 Billion Kenya shillings. It's slightly below 2 billion KSh. 1,830,250,000 Ksh to be precise. That is not so much to pay for a 3G license, is it?

  10. Submitted by usatng
    Posted January 27, 2010 01:05 AM

    Proponents of government subsidies argue that ICT is a high-productivity sector that can kick-start economic growth in developing countries. At the same time, evidence that ICT firms "cluster" — converging on areas like Bangalore or Silicon Valley — suggests to some that there is a place for subsidies to attract a few initial firms with the hope that a lot more will then follow. Both arguments, however, turn out to be a little threadbare on further analysis. The high productivity doesn’t benefit local producers, and evidence that subsidies alone can foster a self-sustaining ICT cluster is very weak.

  11. Submitted by mza
    Posted January 27, 2010 12:17 AM

    Companies like orange that as you say are beginning to show their greed also need to face a greedy PS! So I am with Ndemo and Waweru on this. If Safaricom can pay US$25m for the 3G licence, then orange, Zain, Yu and what have you should pay the same. I would have agreed with you that the gvt is favouring Safaricom if you said they went with the money but the gvt refused to take it.

  12. Submitted by airehmils
    Posted January 26, 2010 11:04 PM

    The government is the worst enemy to entrepreneurship in Kenya. Most small businesses would benefit from cheaper and faster internet. The outsourcing business which has so much potential would just explode if the govt removed the bottlenecks which just earn money for the technocrats. The so many talented graduates would just stop crying about tarmacking. Open up the cyberspace. Or are you afraid that this will bring an economic revolution which most wazees in all industries are afraid....

  13. Submitted by yesuwangu
    Posted January 26, 2010 10:12 PM

    Since Telkom shares was sold even safaricm has been inefficient as compared to the years it was started.they cannoot make take the risk of number portability.That is a very hard step for many mobile companies.kamuyu you did well.look at the sea fibre which was commision by the president upto now kenyans have not seen any benefits

  14. Submitted by mpisha
    Posted January 26, 2010 10:03 PM

    Finally i get someone who detastes Ndemo's work.Never agreed with that ps in everything he says.He always has interests of his own and protecting his cronies who rip kenyans off.If only we had honest people with interests of kenyans at heart,we could be miles away ahead technology-wise.Wahenya,Thanks,hit them harder!!

  15. Submitted by sam7
    Posted January 26, 2010 07:41 PM

    Kamunyu, You seen to be angry at these people due to inefficiencies and you have every right . Like you, i believe that Kenya can move far and at a much faster pace than we are now if we only had people who cares about service delivery and not only short term profits. We need strategic planners in the broadband industry, and all sectors of our economy. People who will plan not for now but the many years to come putting aside their short term self interest. I believe we can get this if we demand so from these mega corporations.

  16. Submitted by shiunduonline
    Posted January 26, 2010 07:14 PM

    And this anger should translate into something great. I do love this, I love it so so much...keep the fire burning and say all these things as they are.We need such boldness.

  17. Submitted by kenyanCanadian
    Posted January 26, 2010 07:12 PM

    Once you attack Raila unfairly I do not even finish reading your article. Where is Kibaki in all this? His work is to undermine the PM. Mau issue was a very straight forward thing had he Kibaki cooperated fully with the PM it could be over long time and the PM could be more focused on other pressing issues like your broadband thing.